All of Victory Hall cautiously fought to keep their composure. He made his way down the hallway as the only person in the room without a clue of the honor that had been awarded to him. While smiling, laughing, and greeting residents in passing, he made his way to Victory hall’s weekly staff meeting. All Resident Assistants slowly took their seats. Side conversations came to an immediate halt and the undivided attention of the room was suddenly claimed: “Everyone, I have a very special announcement,” Victory Hall Director Joshua Gosdin said.
The Gene Ward Outstanding Student Leader Award was awarded to Senior Engineering major and third year Victory Hall Resident Assistant, Mario Navarrete, at the 2016 Annual Southwest Association of College and University Housing Officers conference (SWACUHO) in late February that recognized him as one of three students out of all Resident Assistants within 300 housing departments in Arkansas, Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas who “have contributed significantly to residence hall living and to the university community on their campus,” according to the SWACUHO website.
As a former Student Government Association Senator, a Professional Leadership Program Student Director, an Alternative Spring Break Site Leader, a member of The University of North Texas’ organization for the top 40 leaders, NT40, and a facilitator for the Black Student Experience (BSE) on top of being both a Mechanical Engineering student and Resident Assistant at Victory Hall, Mario serves as a student leader in several capacities.
After moving from El Salvador, Mario and his family settled into The Third Ward, one of Houston’s six historic wards, and also a very poor area with very little diversity and a lack of resources in local schools.
He attended Sharpstown high school, formerly known as a “dropout factory” according to the 2012 documentary Drop-out Nation, where he exceled in his academics and was named Valedictorian of his graduating class.
Mario hopes that his life can show that even a minority from a poor area who attended a struggling school can go on to achieve great things, be a leader, and be able to leave a genuine impact on the lives of others.
“When I was growing up I didn’t have anyone to look up to,” Mario said.
“I didn’t have the ability to say, ‘man this person’s made it out of the hood, or ‘this person made it out of such and such high school.’ So with me going through all these trials and tribulations, I want people to be able to look and say ‘wow, this isn’t impossible.’ They can even go do greater things than I’ve done.”
His character and the influence he has had on other Resident Assistants is why Victory Hall Director, Joshua Gosdin, instructed all of his peers to hold back from congratulating Mario until he had the opportunity to inform Mario of his achievement while he was surrounded by his peers during their staff meeting.
“It was hard keeping it a secret if only for the fact that so many of my peers were so proud of him too! But, it was worth it recognize him in front of his peers. So often, negative examples of what not to do are put forward in the public eye, so I always jump at the chance to hold up a positive example for others to see” Gosdin said.
“The impact a peer can have on another peer can sometimes be greater than when an authority figure intervenes. I trust Mario to support my decisions, policies, and procedures to the rest of my staff, even when I’m not around,” Gosdin said.
First-year Resident Assistants look to Mario as an example of how to connect with residents as an RA while also doing well in classes and being involved on campus.
“Before I met Mario, I had an idea of the reputation he had at Victory as being sort of the Godfather of the place,” Junior Resident Assistant Jose Trujillo said.
“The cool things it that now I’m starting to truly be able to call him a true friend.”
“The way that he carries himself, his genuine motor, the way its always on and how he always strives to be great – that’s kind of an infectious thing that carries on to everyone else around him and motivates us to be better versions of ourselves,” Trujillo said.
Three years into the role and counting, Mario has continued to make a consistent effort to be intentional in his relationships with his supervisors, coworkers, friends, and residents by going beyond surface level conversations and relationships with people. Instead, he makes an effort to encourage them to reach for big goals.
“Mario was the one who influenced me to apply to be an RA,” Victory Hall Resident Assistant Frankie Green said.
While living at Victory Hall her freshman year of college, Frankie and Mario developed a good friendship that they now continue as coworkers at Victory Hall.
Frankie was among several other RA’s in the staff meeting who were there to witness Mario’s reaction after being told that he was awarded the Gene Ward Outstanding Leader Award by his Hall Director, Joshua Gosdin.
“I got a little bit emotional; I’m not gonna front. But it was beautiful because after doing this for three years, seeing all these people growing up, meeting their parents and even still being involved and having dreams for the future, seeing recognition like that is beautiful,” Mario Navarrete said.
Mario has also been awarded both the Distinguished Service Award and Otis Uduebor Servant Leadership in addition to the Gene Ward Outstanding Leader Award for the 2015-2016 year.
After he graduates from the University of North Texas, Mario strives to continue his education in engineering by attending either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (M.I.T.), or Pennsylvania State University.
Mechanical Engineering major
Victory Hall Resident Assistant
Victory Hall Resident Assistant
Victory Hall Director